Book Review - What Poets Need

by Finuala Dowling (Kwela Books) ISBN: 978-0-7957-0720-9 

This evocative South African novel was first published by Alison Lowry at Penguin in 2005. I didn’t discover it then, and I’m so glad I found it now.

It’s the story of John Carson, a poet who lives in a run-down old Kalk Bay house with his sister and niece. He’s trying to write, trying to find a “real” job, looking after his troubled niece, keeping the eccentric old lady in the cottage company, and worrying about the state of the house. And conducting an e-mail love affair with the woman who abandoned him to marry someone else.

Everything is seen through John’s slightly jaded yet ever-hopeful point of view, touched with an honest self-deprecation and wry humour. He is densely emotional and deliciously “Cape Town-ian”, although the story is universal in its themes and explorations. It is a joy to read. 

Judy Ward


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